12/01/2013 12:41 pm ET | Updated Jan 31, 2014

Beyond COP 19: Accelerating Climate Protection

As the climate crisis intensifies, extreme weather events such as the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines are becoming increasingly frequent. At the final hour, a compromise was reached between representatives of the developed and developing countries on a funding 'mechanism' to pay for climate-related 'loss and damage' at the recent 19th Annual Meeting of UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) known as COP 19 (Conference of the Parties) in Warsaw. While this represents a victory for the Group of 77 developing countries, the vague, non-binding wording of the final document fell far short of the detailed funding commitment expected from developed nations.

The focus in Warsaw was on 'climate justice': funding from the rich industrial nations to compensate for their historically disproportionate emissions of greenhouse gas, which have contributed significantly to environmental disasters in poorer countries. To be sure, mechanisms for 'climate justice' are necessary to mitigate the effects of climate-induced disasters and ensure the survival of climate refugees. However, climate justice and 'benefit-sharing solutions' should not be allowed to divert attention from the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale.

All countries agreed to make contributions to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. However, COP 19 failed to secure a binding agreement from any country to limit emissions. Even minimal efforts to address climate change have been derailed by international economic competition. Industrializing countries such as China, India, and Brazil want developed countries in the Global North to take the lead in drastic emissions reductions. Fearing loss of their economic edge, the "rich, powerful and deeply fossil-fuel addicted" countries of the Global North want to move away from even the targets and obligations to which they had previously agreed. The United States, for example, has never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Canada and Australia are increasing emissions. Japan declared it could not achieve the promised emission reductions and gave itself an 'extremely weak target' at the COP 19. Emissions from developing nations now exceed those of developed countries, with China being the largest contributor of greenhouse gases. In Warsaw, heavy polluters like China and India refused to take on specific reduction goals. China led a group of developing nations in arguing for more flexibility for poorer nations with regards to meeting climate change commitments by 2015, when a new climate treaty is to be signed in Paris to replace the failed Kyoto Protocol.

While international negotiations inch forward, there is mounting evidence that climate change is occurring faster than previously projected and with more disastrous effects. Alarmed by these developments, climate scientists are saying that, in order to keep global warming below 2˚ C above preindustrial levels, industrialized countries need to bring down their CO2 emissions 10 percent per year starting in 2014. As Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester puts it, "We can still do 2˚ C but not the way we're going." Scientists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens from the Global North and the South agree that progress made in Warsaw is 'simply inadequate' given the scale and urgency of climate change. Binding commitments and real actions to reduce emissions at the source must be the foremost goal of negotiations. In fact, many have expressed dismay over the lack of urgency at Warsaw and ask why climate negotiators have not acclimated themselves to the fact that it is simply too late for incremental changes.

The climate crisis and North-South disparities are results of a deeper crisis in corporate led economic growth. Privatization of resources and unsustainable technologies are contributing to environmental collapse and global inequities. The environmental organization Friends of Earth notes that governments of developed countries which are 'deep in the pockets of corporate polluters... have prevented even minimal progress at the negotiations.' The COP19 Meeting in Warsaw was sponsored by a number of coal ,oil and transportation corporations, such as Alstom Power, Arcelor-Mittal BMW Group Poland, Lotos Group, General Motors and Emirates Airlines.The Polish government also co-hosted a 'clean coal' conference in Warsaw while the COP19 Meeting was taking place next door. Naturally, we ask: was COP19 meant to be just a 'greenwashing exercise' for the coal and oil corporations involved? Given the lackluster results of the conference, did they truly intend to make significant progress in this area beyond a tepid show of support?

The privatization and domination of nature calls for more deregulation of corporate activity and the commodification of the natural "commons." Climate crisis, global inequalities, and resistance to necessary change all stem from the acceleration of competition over natural resources, especially energy. At the root of the crisis is the psychological dualism of 'self vs. other' separating humans from nature and each other. A long term solution requires a shift to a partnership approach and a middle path of development that balances economic growth with sustainable technologies and equitable consumption. Worldwide efforts of youth, women, interfaith groups, and indigenous peoples to influence corporations, governments and the United Nations need much more support from global educational and media institutions.